Thanks for all the questions you’ve been busy sending in about the first of our Halo: Ground Command blogs – it has been huge fun talking to you all about our new game.
This time around we’re going to cover the In-Game side of the Halo: Ground Command game… the Core Rules. This is a long Blog, so we’re warning you now, you may want to digest it in chunks. To start with, it is important to discuss the mechanics we have carried over from our Halo: Fleet Battles spaceship combat game. That way everyone can get a handle on some of the terminology used throughout this Blog.
Firepower Rating and Halo Dice
As with Halo: Fleet Battles, we use Halo Dice in conjunction with the Firepower Rating Table to control modifiers and drive the statistics in the game.
Both games start with players using a default of Firepower Rating 4 with the Rating modifying up and down accordingly. This means that when rolling Halo Dice, a result of 2 [or Spartan Exploding 6 as we call it] counts as two hits, a result of 1 result counts as one hit, a Miss result can be re-rolled if you have rolled any 2s, and the Skull result is a definite miss. Some weapons will provide a positive bonus to the Firepower Rating whereas Terrain conditions and Scenario effects generally cause the Firepower Rating to suffer a negative penalty.
In Halo: Ground Command we use three Game Tokens: Activated (placed when a Unit Activates or attempts a Reaction), Damage (for when an attack equals or exceeds a value on a Damage Track) and Cooldown (which is used to represent a situation where a weapon or even an entire Unit cannot fire).
We have used a simple visual presentation mechanic to show people the various statistics used by Units on their statistic cards. These cards will be large enough to fit in your hand and will have all pertinent rules (as well as paraphrased notations about Loadouts) on them, making Unit reference in Halo: Ground Command quick and very simple.
Commanders and Command Dice
Just like with Halo: Fleet Battles, we use the Command Dice for each Faction to drive the Command & Control side of the game engine. The Command/Attack/Defence symbols allow players to execute orders from their Force Commander’s Data Sheet that can often be the difference between success and failure in battle.
In the Halo: Fleet Battles, we assume these lofty individuals are far removed from the action taking place on the battlefield, but their orders can be issued with immediate effect. In the beginning, there will be two Generic Commanders – one for each side – after which Named Commanders and Heroes will be fielded to add more narrative depth to games.
OK, so that’s the core rule components that we have carried forwards from Halo: Fleet Battles covered, now let’s talk about the innovations that you can expect in Halo: Ground Command.
The first and most important new part of the game is Reaction Fire. Halo is, at its core, a First Person Shooter (FPS) where the action is fast and furious. Weapons rain down from all sides, and death is an ever present companion! Of course that can be difficult to translate to a tabletop where we need the structure of Game Turns, Activations, Segments, Actions etc. to allow us to effectively control the game.
To embrace the action of an FPS, we have created a Reaction Statistic for every Element in Halo: Ground Command in order to allow us to represent a persistent form of overwatch where every Unit on the table is assumed to be engaged in the battle at all times.
The Reaction Statistic has two numbers shown as X / Y on a Unit’s Profile. The X number is used if a Unit has not yet been Activated, and the Y number is used if a Unit has already been Activated. If a player wants to react to an enemy Unit’s activation, the player makes a 2D6 dice roll, adds or subtracts any modifiers and hopes they match or exceed the relevant number… if they do, they get to fire in their opponent’s activation, either at the start of a Unit’s movement or at the end! Simple… but very powerful and massively cinematic!
Attempting a Reaction is not without risk, however, as you are only permitted to attempt a single reaction to an enemy Unit’s activation and whether you succeed or fail the reacting Unit gains an Activation Marker as a result. This means a player has to choose wisely which Unit will be used to React to the enemy. Sometimes it is better to React with a Unit that has already gone, especially if the Unit has a good Y-React number. For example, UNSC Warthogs excel at this, creating mobile mini-fire-bases upon which the UNSC can base their advance/defence tactics.
It may also be the case that a player is unwilling to React, as it will affect their ability to surge forwards (since making a Reaction attempt gives a Unit an Activation Marker that effectively halts any chance of performing a Movement Action).
This is a hugely exciting and important facet of the Halo: Ground Command gameplay. In a massed battle game, where you could literally have hundreds of miniatures on the tabletop and large numbers of Armour and Flyers, you suddenly have the intensity of an FPS, where no Unit is ever truly safe. This means that even if your opponent has already activated a Unit, the Unit isn’t actually out of the game – it is potentially still very dangerous throughout the entire Game Turn!
As you might expect, not everything has the same React X/Y. A Spartan. the paragon of war for the UNSC, might be capable of multiple feats of arms in a turn, firing in all directions as he/she attempts to defend a wounded soldier. A ponderous pair of Hunters are, however, far more measured and lumbering, taking time to line up shots and gear themselves for combat. This is represented by the Spartan having a React Score of 5/6, whereas a Hunter Unit is limited to 10/13.
Sharp eyed gamers will notice that the Hunter’s Y-Reaction stat is technically impossible on 2D6! This is intentional as Hunters are pretty slow at reacting once they have already acted. But through careful marshalling of Commanders and Orders it IS possible to lower a Unit’s Reaction Stat to a point where the Hunters could pull off a once-in-a-blue-moon reaction, making the impossible, possible and cementing them into gaming table legend.
How does this change things?
Think about most wargames you have played. Each one attempts to be cinematic, trying to bring you into the action, but how many truly achieve this lofty goal? The majority are stymied by the need for Game Turns, Activations, Segments etc. With Reaction Fire, everything is technically in the game at all times and can respond to enemy movement – assuming you can roll high enough on 2D6 of course!
In a FPS you don’t hang around waiting for your opponent to move, shoot or charge before you get your turn, and then find yourself taking off your models before they had a chance to do anything! That’s exactly what we’ve focused on avoiding in Halo: Ground Command. Instead, you have the chance to blast your opponent’s forces to smithereens with SMGs, Plasma Rifles and Rocket Launchers, holding out against impossible odds!
YOU CAN’T GET MORE HALO THAN THAT!
Let’s talk weapons. In Halo there are a plethora of cool and exciting weapons with which you can shoot your opponent into tiny little pieces. To represent ALL of these weapons at 1/100th scale and making players identify single weapons would have led to a slow and cumbersome style of game play. Instead we have created a catch all term – Small Arms. Into it we have merged a multitude of weapons, such as Plasma Pistols, Shotguns. Needlers and Assault Rifles. They are not, however, always the same in the game. Small Arms, when in the hands of Grunts, have one set of Small Arms Stats, and a different set of stats when used by Elites. This makes the game flow smoothly and gives each faction diversity without the minutiae of looking directly into the hands of each and every model.
That is not to say that all weapons are in this category. Certain Units can upgrade one or more of their bases to be specific Fire Teams, like Grunts wielding Fuel Rod Cannons, UNSC Troopers manning HMGs, etc.
This brings us on to Weapon Loadouts. The majority of weapons in the game, including Small Arms, normally have at least one Loadout. A Loadout is a custom rule that enhances a weapon. It could be as simple as Suppression (+1) in the case of UNSC Small Arms or Point Blank in the case of Covenant Small Arms, to more complex Loadouts such as Devastating, Pinpoint, Indirect Fire, and so on. Each of these Loadouts is summarised on a Unit’s Statistic Card and detailed in the core rulebook for ease of reference.
The Weapon Spread
This is an important innovation that becomes apparent the more you play the Halo Video Games. Each and every weapon, if you are willing to shoot it long enough (and have enough ammo!) can technically destroy anything in-game when it comes to Halo. This means that we had to come up with a new system for weapons that allows for this incredible flexibility. So we designed the Weapon Spread System to do exactly that.
The Weapon Spread divides the Attack Dice available to a Weapon into three distinct categories, each citing the weapon’s effectiveness against a specific target.
- Anti-Personnel (AP) refers to a weapon’s ability to damage Infantry targets.
- Anti-Tank (AT) refers to a weapons ability to damage Armoured targets.
- Anti-Air (AA) refers to a weapons ability to damage Flying targets.
Let’s take a look at a UNSC Army Riflemen Unit:
Now let’s look at a Grunt Levy Unit:
UNSC Rifleman can shoot further and are much better at engaging Infantry targets, and they aren’t too shabby at shooting at Air targets either. The UNSC use a lot of bullets to attempt to suppress the Covenant, so even their Small Arms get a Loadout to facilitate this by use of Suppression (+1).
Grunts are normally armed with a collection of pistol-weapons in the video games, and so it is reasonable to give them a shorter range, but the commonality approach to their weapons makes Grunts pretty effective in large numbers against all targets. This is especially true when looking at their Point Blank Loadout which greatly increases their effectiveness at short range – which is handy because they only have a Short Range.
When firing, we use a combination mechanic (the same as in Halo: Fleet Battles) so a Unit of 4 Bases of Grunts shooting at a Unit of UNSC Riflemen in the open (always a bad thing for the UNSC) would roll 2+2+2+2 = 8x Halo Dice using Firepower Rating 5 (the best they can get!). From this roll the Grunts would expect to get about 6 Hits, which should, on average, kill 2 Bases of UNSC Riflemen. It really is that simple.
As we’ve discussed, Halo is, first and foremost, a FPS, which means shooting takes precedence over hand to hand combat. But it is definitely not true to say that Melee does not exist. After all, there are few truer gaming-pleasures than eviscerating an Elite with his own energy sword or clubbing a Grunt to the ground with your Assault Rifle.
In the Halo: Ground Command Melee system, each element rolls a number of Halo Dice equal to their Melee Statistic, but unlike Ranged Attacks, all players are looking to do is roll Skulls – all other results are ignored.
Roll a Skull and you automatically do a point of Damage (or in the case of Melee vs Vehicles, 2x Skulls for a point of Damage). Heroic Saves can be attempted after that, but essentially that’s as complicated as Melee gets. If each side rolls the same number of Skulls in a round of Melee, the survivors keep fighting until someone wins – or until both sides are wiped out. There is no quarter asked for or given in Halo! Once one side is declared the winner, the loser is pushed back, leaving both sides free to React as normal.
As Melee is a very simple mechanic to manage, it has allowed us to add exciting nuances to the game. Want to drive your Warthog into a Unit of Grunts? Sure, why not. You can do it in the video game and you can now do it on the tabletop. We also have Loadouts which make Melee brutal and this allows us to differentiate one Unit from another. A great example is the Hardened Fighter Loadout which allows certain Units to re-roll a number of failed Melee Dice. This means something really scary like a Covenant Zealot with 8 Melee Dice and Hardened Fighter (6) may re-roll up to 6 of their Melee Dice that failed to generate a Skull result.
This means you don’t mess with a Zealot Mano-a-Mano – unless you are a Spartan of course. Spartans can actually re-roll ALL their failed Melee Dice as they have a Hardened Fighter value that is equal to their actual Melee stat!
In the End phase we simply tally up scored Victory Points for the Game Turn. Victory Points (VPs) are generated by destroying enemy Units, where their Build Rating directly translates to VPs.
VPs can also be scored according to the conditions stated in any particular scenario you might be playing. For example, the Assassination Mission from the core rulebook gives bonus VPs points for taking out anything with the Commanding Presence Loadout, whilst the Take and Hold Scenario gives additional VPs for holding Placed Objectives (usually Buildings of importance on the battlefield).
The Scenarios all last a certain number of Game Turns, after which the person who has scored the most Victory Points wins.
Air Missions and Flyers
Finally, we really should talk about flyers in Halo. All flying vehicles are separated into two categories: Hover Flyers and Air Support Mission Flyers.
Hover Flyers are treated in the same way as any other battlefield Unit, moving shooting, reacting in the same way as any other model. They are targeted using a weapon’s Anti-Air (AA) Statistic and tend to be fast moving and pretty aggressive in their use. Examples of these include Banshees or Falcons, which may be seen operating in Units with more than one model, or be individuals, depending on their Build Rating and the Battle Group they are part of.
Air Support Mission Flyers tend to be far larger than their standard Hover counterparts, dominating the sky with their bulk and durability. These Flyers are simply too large to remain on the table turn to turn, and instead resolve their movement, the execution of their chosen mission and extraction in a simple strafing method. Examples of these flyers include the UNSC Pelican and Covenant Phantom.
When using an Air Support Mission Flyers, players activate the model in the same way as any other Unit, declaring a Mission type for the Flyer. This Mission will have an attached Victory Points cost, which is given to the enemy directly after the Mission is announced. This give-and-take aspect to Air Support Mission Flyers makes the taking of these large models very balanced – you get a huge reward, but your opponent gets a strategic bonus if you saturate the battlefield with too many.
This means that protracted use of aerial assets will cause a drain on the player’s chances of winning an outright victory, but execution of these Missions will often be vital for continued success in the combat operation. So balancing if, when and how you bring in your Air Support Mission Flyers is a skill that will take time for players to develop.
There are a variety of Missions available to Flyers of this type. Combat Drop Missions allow players to bring in reserves. Supply Drop Missions allow the placement of a Supply Drop Marker that increases the Reaction Statistics of all friendly ground models within range. Ground Attack Missions allow you to target ground Units with increased effect. Reinforcement Missions allow you to bring a damaged Unit of Infantry (and in some cases Armour) back up to full strength, and Air Patrols allow you to place your Flyer ‘on-station’, ready to intercept enemy flyers when they activate.
The aerial aspect of the Halo: Ground Command game is great fun, flexible and allows players to use their combined arms thinking, which translates onto the tabletop with great effect.
It is worth noting that due to the size of Air Support Mission Flyers we wanted to make sure that players could cost effectively use them in every game they play. To this end we have created what we call ‘Shadow Templates’ that are used to represent specific Flyers during game. Whilst we love our large Pelican and Phantom Flyer models (which can be purchased from our online store), forcing players to buy a large model to gain access to something intrinsic to the mechanics of our game is completely unfair. We’ll leave that for other companies to enforce with their games. That is not the Spartan way.
With existing rules like the Firepower Ratings, Halo Dice, Command Dice, and new rule advances like Reaction Fire, the innovative Weapons Spread mechanic, streamlined and bloody Melee, a fast and effective Victory Points system and, of course, tactical and effective Aerial rules, Halo: Ground Command is really coming at you full on! Whether you plan to fight on Reach or the Ark, these rules are designed to fully immerse you into ground warfare in the Halo Universe.
That’s quite a lot for everyone to digest, so we’ll give it a rest here and let folk ask some more questions! Feel free to contact us as usual and check out our Forum here:
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